Human epididymis protein 4 (HE4) is a secreted glycoprotein that is overexpressed by serous and endometrioid ovarian carcinomas.


Among the genes most commonly identified in gene expression profiles of epithelial ovarian carcinomas (EOC) is the gene for human epididymis protein 4 (HE4). To ascertain its clinical utility, we did a comprehensive assessment of HE4 protein expression in benign and malignant ovarian and nonovarian tissues by immunohistochemistry. In comparison with normal surface epithelium, which does not express HE4, we found that cortical inclusion cysts lined by metaplastic Mullerian epithelium abundantly express the protein. Its expression in tumors was restricted to certain histologic subtype: 93% of serous and 100% of endometrioid EOCs expressed HE4, whereas only 50% and 0% of clear cell carcinomas and mucinous tumors, respectively, were positive. Tissue microarrays revealed that the majority of nonovarian carcinomas do not express HE4, consistent with our observation that HE4 protein expression is highly restricted in normal tissue to the reproductive tracts and respiratory epithelium. HE4 is predicted to encode a secreted protein. Using reverse transcription-PCR, we identified ovarian cancer cell lines that endogenously overexpress HE4. Cultured medium from these cells revealed a secreted form of HE4 that is N-glycosylated. This observation is consistent with the recent report that HE4 circulates in the bloodstream of patients with EOC. Therefore, HE4 is a secreted glycoprotein that is overexpressed by serous and endometrioid EOCs. Its expression in cortical inclusion cysts suggests that formation of Mullerian epithelium is a prerequisite step in the development of some types of EOCs.


One biomarker makes reference to this publication:

  • Crum CP
  • Drapkin R
  • Hecht JL
  • Lin Y
  • Mok SC
  • Welch WR
  • von Horsten HH
PubMed ID
Appears In
Cancer Res, 2005, 65 (6)